Music corporations and many of the artists who record for them declared victory yesterday after a federal appeals court decision in the Napster case that many say will end the free download era.
Though the decision of the trio of San Francisco judges does not force the immediate closure of Napster, it supports almost all the points of the record industry's legal case. When the injunction, first written last summer, is revised, Napster's popular MP3-sharing service may be forced to close.
"We are pleased with the court's decision to uphold the fundamental elements of the injunction, and we hope the message is clear: Artists' rights must be respected online," said Noah Stone, executive director of Artists Against Piracy, a coalition that represents Aimee Mann, Alanis Morissette, the Barenaked Ladies, Blink-182, Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, Christina Aguilera, DMX, Everclear, Faith Hill, Sisqo, and more than 80 other artists.
Metallica, the hard rock act that became equally known last year for its vocal opposition to Napster, released its own statement on the ruling.
"We are delighted that the court has upheld the rights of all artists to protect and control their creative efforts," the band said. "We have never objected to the technology, the Internet, or the digital distribution of music. All we have ever asked is that artists be able to control how, when, and in what form their creativity is distributed through these channels. This is something that Napster has continually refused to do. Now the court has made that decision for them."
The major record labels all released statements lauding the decision, as did the Recording Industry Association of America, the trade group that represents their interests.
Bertelsmann AG, the German media giant that owns record group BMG, perhaps had the most at stake in the decision, as the company has heavily invested in Napster and planned to drop its lawsuit against the renegade company this summer, when Napster converts to a paying model.
The label — whose holdings include Arista Records, RCA Records, and Jive — said the decision was just another step toward Napster's legitimization.
"BMG remains committed to the development of secure file-sharing services that compensate our artists and other rightsholders," BMG Entertainment president Rolf Schmidt-Holtz said. "BMG recognizes the strong consumer demand for file sharing and will work with [BMG e-commerce group] BeCG and Napster in developing industry-supported services that bring fans closer to their favorite artists."
Artists who support Napster — including rapper Chuck D, Limp Bizkit, Green Day, and numerous lesser-known acts such as the Rosenbergs — had little comment following the ruling, but Napster had plenty to say in its own defense.
"The new technologies we are developing are amazing; I hope that, by further court review or by agreement with the record companies, we can find a way to share them with the community," said Shawn Fanning, the 20-year-old programmer who first developed the file-sharing software, during a press conference.
"Today we have more than 50 million members, and we'll all find a way to keep this community growing," he continued. "If we work together and let members of Congress know how important Napster is to us, we'll succeed."
Many analysts say that the industry is far from conquering its digital woes.
"Napster will likely be shut down before it has an opportunity to migrate millions of users from the free illegal service to the paid legitimate one," said Larry Miller, president of digital-rights management company Reciprocal Entertainment. "Consumers will then likely turn to other illegal services, which might set the industry as a whole back even further."